2020 PLAAY Presenters and Topics

Keynote Address – 

Commissioner Robert Crum, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

Adam Crum serves as commissioner for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. He was born and raised in Alaska and has over a decade of experience in the private sector in strategic management , organizational development, executive consulting and working on multi-billion dollar projects.

Commissioner Crum is active in community services organizations and has served as a board member for groups including the Salvation Army and MyHouse, a group that works specifically with homeless youth. Both groups work with clients dealing with mental health, substance use disorder, transitional housing and workforce development issues.

Crum ventured from the wilds of Alaska to the gridiron of the Big Ten, playing football at Northwestern University where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He then completed a Master of Science in Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University. He currently resides in Wasilla, Alaska with his wife Colleen and an energetic black lab named Walter.

Vision For a Fit Future – 

Robert Arnold, Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus, Alaska Children’s Eye & Strabismus

Dr. Robert Arnold is a pediatric ophthalmologist who has been practicing for 30 years. Dr. Arnold has encouraged the use of the “Enhanced Bruckner Test” for primary care pediatric detection of serious vision problems in children. The Alaska Blind Child Discovery became a concerted effort coordinated with Diane Armitage to provide valid image interpretation and parental notification for volunteer charitable screening in urban and rural Alaska. He has run 4 marathons including  including Boston-qualifier 1984. He was a 2-sport athlete at UAF: cross country running and cross country skiing, and the founder and coach at Grace Nordic Program.

Youth, Social Media, and Depression: A Community Issue – 

Eric Boyer, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority

Eric oversees two focus areas at Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority: workforce development in the healthcare industry, and behavioral health. He worked for UAA as a Training Coordinator for six years with the AK Training Cooperative and has over 20 years’ experience working in the residential and community based services for children and adolescents. In working with a number of individuals who were thinking or actively suicidal, Eric has the foundation for learning how to assess for suicide and what we can do to help someone who is in that place. He is currently in his third year MPH student at UAA.

Vaping Medical Findings – 

Dr. Jay Butler, Center for Disease Control

Previously Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jay Butler formerly served as Senior Director of the Division of Community Health Services at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage, where he was also an infectious diseases consultant and Medical Director for Infection Control and Employee Health.  Dr. Butler also served as Director of the H1N1 Task Force at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of the University of North Carolina Medical School, Dr. Butler has an extensive medical background and has authored or co-authored more than 100 scientific papers and medical textbook chapters on medicine and public health. He is an Affiliate Professor of Medicine at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Emotional Intelligent PLAAY – 

Mandy Casurella, LPC, Alaska Emotion Coach

Mandy Casurella is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Approved Supervisor in private practice in Anchorage, Alaska. She has enjoyed working in various clinical settings in Anchorage since 2004. She currently works in private practice, seeing adults and adolescents for individual psychotherapy covering a wide range of therapeutic issues. She is passionate about resourcing children, families and institutions with tools and practices to help build emotional intelligence. She provides Emotion Coaching, a research-based method for teaching children to regulate their behavior and emotions, to parents and children. In addition she provides services in schools and to the community in effort to extend social-emotional learning for everyone. Mandy earned a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University. She loves living and playing in wild Alaska with her husband, two sons and dog

Indigenous and Free: ANTHC’s Vaping Prevention Campaign – 

Dana Diehl, Director Wellness and Prevention, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Dana oversees eight statewide programs at ANTHC focused on promoting culturally responsive wellness initiatives among Alaska Native families and communities. Originally from Aniak in Southwest Alaska, she is both Yupik and Athabascan.  Dana is a core team member for the Healthy Alaskans 2020 Initiative, a board member of the Kuskokwim Education Foundation, a recipient of The Kuskokwim Corporation’s 2018 Health Award, and a recipient of ANTHC’s 2018 Employee of the Year award. Dana holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise and Sport Science from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and is currently enrolled in Alaska Pacific University’s Alaska Native Executive Leadership Program. In her spare time she enjoys gathering and harvesting traditional Alaska Native foods with family and friends, skiing, hiking and running.

Outdoor Leadership & Teambuilding – 

TJ Miller, Director HPER, University of Alaska Anchorage

After growing up in Colorado and moving to Alaska in 2002 T.J. Miller found his new home. He has a Bachelor Degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and a Master Degree in Adult Education. He has been an outdoor educator for nearly 20 years. T.J. is a certified Wilderness Education Association Outdoor Leader, Wilderness First Responder, and Avalanche Instructor (AIARE. He is a professional member of the American Avalanche Association and Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE). T.J. has held various leadership and board positions in the university, anchorage community and professional organizations. TJ has a relentless passion for outdoor pursuits. He has a son and a daughter who enjoy rafting, hiking, skiing, biking and fishing.

Pediatric Cardiology – 

Scott Wellman, MD, Pediatric Oncologist, Alaska Children’s Heart Center

Scott Wellmann, MD is a pediatric cardiologist who has been providing medical care for Alaskans since 1998. After graduation from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, he completed his pediatric residency and pediatric cardiology fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Dr. Wellmann is the founder and co-owner of Alaska Children’s Heart Center. His primary office is in Anchorage, Alaska, and Dr. Wellmann travels throughout Alaska to see patients. Dr. Wellmann has served as the department chair for Pediatrics at Providence Alaska Medical Center and he currently serves on the PAMC credentials committee, pediatric critical care committee, and The Children’s Hospital at Providence physician advisory council. Dr Wellmann is the 2020 chair for the Providence Alaska Foundation board. He has been on the board for the Alaska chapter of the American Heart Association since its inception and he is a member of the American Heart Association Cor Vitae Society. Dr. Wellmann has received multiple honors and awards- among these, he was named “Instructor of the Year “from the Alaska Family Practice Residency Program and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners honored Dr Wellmann with the Advocate of the Year award for the state of Alaska.

Bullying Prevention Basics and Youth Solution Makers –

Cari Zawodny, Adult Facilitator, Anchorage Youth Vote & Story Works Alaska

Cari Zawodny Cari Zawodny is the adult facilitator and project coordinator for Anchorage Youth Vote and SAYiT. Cari began working with Anchorage Youth Vote and Spirit of Youth in 2012, and added Story Works Alaska’s SAYiT to her portfolio of outstanding youth groups in 2017. In addition to her work in youth-service, Cari is a parent, an aunt, and an active ally for youth voice, inclusion, and accessibility.

Athletes Panel Discussion – Overcoming adversity and the role of leadership (Moderated by Eric Boyer, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority)

Dominick Meriweather-

Despite violent nature of MMA, the sport brings out the softer side in many fighters. Anchorage’s Dominick Meriweather is no different. Raised by an abusive father, and watching his mother struggle to help her family survive, he lived with rage and carried it everywhere. He needed an outlet. He got involved with mixed martial arts. A formula of training, discipline and structure did wonders. His attitude on life shifted. Confidence replaced doubt, peace overcame fury. “I didn’t expect it to impact my life,” he said. “People don’t realize how much it clears your mind and heals the soul.” Dominick turned pro in 2015 and is one of Alaska’s most promising fighters. Growing up in an abusive environment didn’t push him towards MMA; though he started wrestling at age 5, he initially grappled with the idea of using his fists to make money. Meriweather, 28, doesn’t have a violent nature. He has a full-time job with Odom Corporation/SGWS as a Sales Representative during the week and he works with children in his spare time, something he takes serious. He trains at Anchorage Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The coaches there have changed his life. “Martial arts is without a doubt the best way to cope with multiple issues in life, especially if you have a fantastic team behind you that supports and cares about you.” Dom is a firm believer that proper nutrition, exercise, and sports in terms of camaraderie are a very beneficial combination to success as a whole. Dom also draws inspiration from his daughter, Arya, who pushes him to work hard as a fighter and as a father.

Da Jonee Hale-

From long shot to hot shot, Anchorage’s Da Jonee Hale went from being a troubled teen to NAIA National Player of the Year, three-time All-American, and professional basketball player. Given a second chance in life, Hale has been nothing but net. Homeless and hopeless, Da Jonee was hanging with the wrong crowd and headed down the wrong road in life. She got her life back on track with the help of people like Michelle Overstreet of MyHouse, an Alaska organization dedicated to ending homelessness. “I can’t thank her enough,” Da Jonee said of Michelle. Central Methodist coach Greg Ray. Ray took a chance by recruiting the Alaskan in a move that paid huge dividends as the 5-foot-8 guard became the most accomplished women’s player in CMU history, finishing as the all-time leading scorer with 2,109 points. She also holds single-game records for points [50], field goals [17] and free throws [17]. Da Jonee “is an amazing kid with an amazing story,” said school president Roger Drake. Da Jonee recently wrapped up her first season of professional basketball for DJK in Bamberg, Germany.

Denali Strabel-

Growing up in Seward, Denali Strabel has considered herself an athlete. So when abuse entered her life, she internalized her pain and kept pursuing athletics as an outlet. Years of convincing herself that she had every other problem besides what was going on took a toll on her mentally and physically. A nationally ranked track athlete, she found herself looking for trouble. Instead of recovering and eating after long runs, she went out at night to live a life that took her even further away from the truth. Her promising track career at Cal State Stanislaus crumbled. A family intervention started her recovery, becoming more aware of the help she needed, therapy, and putting her mental health as a priority all resulted in the person she is today. With a healthy mindset, she has gone on to become one of Alaska’s top mountain runners. She raced in the Skyrunning World Championship in 2019. Denali has been open about her struggles to take away the stigma that healing is one path taken. Denali now finds satisfaction in mountain racing all over the world, coaching women groups and kids running, and her job in the Special Education Department.

Jalil Abdul-Bassit-

Jalil Abdul-Bassit overcame numerous hardships to become one of Alaska’s most successful basketball players. Jalil’s mother was murdered when he was a young boy in Anchorage and his father was incarcerated through much of his childhood. Extended family and coaches helped him navigate personal tragedy and basketball provided an outlet. Jalil went on to star at the University of Oregon and now plays professionally in Australia.